Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I had been having trouble sleeping. Lying in bed watching the night sky change as the hours pass. Planes fly overhead of our house, all hours of the night, low and coming in for landing or taking off from Philly. Heading somewhere else, or from somewhere else to here. I wonder who is gripping the armrest. Who is crying? Who is drunk and doesn't want to be? Who is annoyed? Who is grateful? Who is excited? Who is content? Who is indifferent? Where are they going?

I say up to them:

You are not the only person in the world to feel like this.

Perhaps I should write it on the roof of my house.


That is the first step of tonglen, if it is a meditation practice you want to cultivate. Just to think that you are not the only person to suffer in this particular way that you are suffering. And further, since you are feeling it, perhaps you should feel it for all the people suffering from that particular brand of suffering. That is a kind of immediate tonglen practice.

Perhaps it is not comforting to be one of the many sufferers. I find it comforting to think tribally, act individually. By thinking as a tribe, I know someone has gone through what I have gone through and they have figured out a solution. All I have to do is ask for help. I find comfort in knowing that things will change, that my emotions do not come with a tattoo artist.

I have been thinking about suffering a great deal lately. As my friends suffer from differing experiences. I have been thinking about sitting in discomfort, anger, sadness, grief, resentment without reacting to it. And honestly, I don't know how to do that well. I think I linked to this piece once before by Pema Chodron about Anger and Aggression and she says that anger is such an uncomfortable emotion, it literally shakes us until it comes out. We want to change anger so desperately, we are willing to fight, yell, hurt people, just because dealing with having to make amends is easier than sitting in anger.

I have been fascinated with this idea of self-compassion since I got sober and realized self-pity is one of the defining characteristics of me and of most alcoholics. As they say, "Poor me. Poor me. Pour me another drink." I think of self-pity as self-compassion run riot. I'm trying not to let anything run riot in my life anymore. So, I am trying to change my self-pitying tendencies to self-compassionate habits.

Every time I call my sponsor about a problem, or a resentment, or an issue, she says the problem is me. It pisses me off, because I want people to agree with me. She is nice about it. She says she loves me. She listens, but then she tells me the problem is with me. And you know what, it is me. She said I have not accepted that life is exactly as it should be. Honestly, I never believed that life was exactly as it should be. I always thought that I should get the boy I want, the job I want, the house I want, and if I didn't, life wasn't as it should be. Hardest to accept is her death. I wanted Lucia here. And I thought she should be here. But she was not here.

People said it all the time to me in this community, "Your baby should be in your arms." I believed them, and I believed me. No amount of magical thinking, or righteous indignation, brought her back. I rewrote that book a thousand times in my head. And it always ended the same.

Conversely, everything that happened after--the bridges I burned, the people I hurt, the bottles of bourbon I drank, the tears I cried, the resentments I cultivated, the angry emails I sent, the self-pitying and unfair blog posts I wrote, the victimization--I cannot change any of those things. Even as I was plotting my course of isolation, I thought it shouldn't be this way. I thought I should be given a wide berth to be an asshole, grieve angrily, self-righteously, demand better behavior from people. I thought my bad behavior was justified and everyone else should be held to unrealistic standards of saintliness and compassion.

None of those things helped me grieve. None of those things helped me accept Lucia was dead. They distracted me from feeling the depth of her death. I couldn't control her death, so I tried to control everything else. It is not something I am proud of. I will not repeat those behaviors again, but I cannot change that part of my story. I could only be who I was. I didn't know what I didn't know.

And so three plus years out, my nights up late involve self-forgiveness. Apologizing to myself for being such an asshole. For not knowing what I didn't know. I am learning about my incredibly complex self-denial, and the ways in which I tried to deny feeling any kind of suffering even while I was in the middle of suffering.

Monday, on our local NPR station, Dr. Kristin Neff was the guest of Voices in the Family, talking about self-compassion. (You can listen to the show here. It is a good show. When Dr. Neff was speaking, she was asked how you sit in suffering, anger, resentment. And she said, you feel the emotion.

I made a Scooby-Doo sound, and twisted my head. And then it was like all of me felt afire. I don't feel. Not nearly at all. I don't let myself feel almost anything. I wiggle out of emotion. I tell the story over and over. I write it out. I pray about it, but I never quite feel it. I can't even quite describe my emotions. It is just flaming, brightly lit emotion.

And she said, you detach the feeling from the storyline. You stop telling yourself the story that led to the emotion. Despair resides in the storyline. She said every emotion, anger in particular, lasts at most twenty minutes. That is, if you don't feed it. If you feel it, and detach from the storyline, and sit with it, maybe you will stop feeling it in twenty minutes. You give yourself unlimited self-compassion because you are human, and all humans deserve compassion. Remove the judgments you have about your own behavior and sit with it. She said feel where the emotion resides in your body. Do you feel the anger in your ribs?

It was like she was speaking a different language, but one I wanted to learn and understand. As they say, "Suffering is inevitable. Misery is optional."

I thought I would share these thoughts as I am going through them, because in this tribe, someone else might be suffering in this way. What about you? What are you thinking about lately? Also open to answering questions, I haven't done that in a long time. Questions about religion, life, parenting, baby loss, art, writing, or anything really. You can leave it in the comments or email me directly, or Facebook me. And also wondering what everyone thinks about doing Right Where I Am again this year. I thought it would be cool to revisit it a year later. What do you think? 


  1. I always do find it so comforting to know that there are other women who have felt the same as I do. It's like sitting in an imaginary room full of kindred spirits.

  2. Sorry, long reply here...
    So much of this is swirling around my head of late too. Yesterday I printed the image from Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes (on facebook), called 'Cultivating the Flowers of Peace': If you have a difficult relationship, and you want to make peace with the other person, you have to go home to yourself. You have to go home to your garden and cultivate the flowers of peace, compassion, understanding, and joy. Only after that can you come to your partner and be patient and compassionate.
    I'm trying so hard, but some days/most days in fact it's exhausting. I'm definitely at a 'poor me' point. I'm trying to keep my own head above water and mother my boys, so I don't seem to have the capacity to put in any extra energy to save my marriage.
    I read this latest post of yours and clicked on the link to Anger and Aggression. It's something I'll have to read a few times over to fully understand, because right now I'm so neck deep in anger that I can't see clearly.
    I lost my temper with one of the boys yesterday morning, on the way out the door for school rush for the eldest. Eldest was fine until we got there, but then had a screaming melt down protesting he didn't want to go. It was like it came out of nowhere. I recognised not long after that he may have been reacting, emotionally, to me losing my shit at his brother earlier. I was reflecting on this with my folks and my dad said "when you get angry, nobody wins". It's a simple sentiment but made so much sense.
    I have to quote this whole para - "Conversely, everything that happened after--the bridges I burned, the people I hurt, the bottles of bourbon I drank, the tears I cried, the resentments I cultivated, the angry emails I sent, the self-pitying and unfair blog posts I wrote, the victimization--I cannot change any of those things. Even as I was plotting my course of isolation, I thought it shouldn't be this way. I thought I should be given a wide berth to be an asshole, grieve angrily, self-righteously, demand better behavior from people. I thought my bad behavior was justified and everyone else should be held to unrealistic standards of saintliness and compassion." THIS is exactly where I'm at. I know that there are relationships ruined from the fallout from Joseph's death and in my rational mind, I know I should back off a bit with expectations of others, but as soon as I think that, I also think 'bullshit' and carry on as I was. At the injustice of it all. Somehow, if I keep my anger, he'll come back. Denial?
    I feel like I don't feel the depth of Joseph's death, or the loss of my womb. I don't cry, or try to connect with him (what's the point). I just get flaming angry and take it out on those closest to me.
    Thanks for asking these questions, and for the links. I'll go back and re read anger and aggression now.
    Oh, and I would totally be all over another Right Where I am. Love and peace and light to you Angie. xo

  3. This is hard for me to read because I do have high expectations for the way other people should handle my grief, and it never feels like I'm being unreasonable in the moment, you know? And I bristle at the idea that life is "as it should be." Maybe I need more time, maybe I'll just always be a stubborn jerk about that kind of thing. But I don't want to live a life of self-pity, either. It is certainly a relief to know that I'm not alone in my suffering.

  4. I would love to do another right where I am project!

  5. Brooke, I could have and would have written that exact comment two years ago. I still struggle, that is why I am writing about it. Because it isn't natural for me to think this way, and I am just opening to this stuff now/ And just now taking responsibility for my own unreasonableness. And I was unreasonable. Love to you. And Kate, beautiful comment. I'm going to keep coming back to it and thinking about it.

    Jen, I love that image of the imaginary room of kindred spirits. That is it!

    MNN, Cool! Two votes for RWIA 2012.

  6. BUT That doesn't mean you were unreasonable. I just know that my intolerance of other people's inability to deal with my grief made me a very angry, bitter person. I used this blog as a venting ground more than once, and it hurt people. People that I loved a great deal and wanted in my life. (Granted, I didn't know they read here, but still...)

  7. I keep getting stuck at the idea that life is as it should be, too. If I can accept that this is just the way life is, I'll have made a lot of progress. Going that (huge) step further - I'm not even sure it's a step I want to take. Because he should be here. That is one of my truths. And that may be inflexibility or sheer stubbornness, but it's not something I want to let go of. I also think I can live with that truth, hold onto it, and still move forward in this world in good ways.

    But that's one of the beauties of the Right Where I Am project - it gathers so many different voices and experiences. I love the feeling of understanding, knowing other people have felt similarly to the way I felt and feel, but I also love hearing about the differences. I think that knowing about different ways of approaching grief keeps me, in some real (but difficult to pinpoint) way, from getting too bogged down in my own head.

  8. Erica,

    I think I bristled for a long time, and sometimes still bristle at life is as it should be, because it sounds like a platitude, or it sounds dismissive. Perhaps it should simply be this is the way life is. I've definitely accepted that, and because it is just the way life is, it is as it should be. Because there is no other path of life, there is one life lived. And she died.

    Honestly, I sometimes feel like I should stop writing in this space, writing about grief, because my feelings have changed and I know they are unpopular feelings in this community. At this point in my life, I just have come to a place of acceptance that she is dead. And because she is dead, I will always have a part of me missing. And yet, I am happy, despite it, perhaps because of it. Because if she hadn't died, I wouldn't have seen the depths of my sickness, my isolation, the fault lines in my spirituality and philosophies about life that cracked me open and left me broken and alone. I don't know. I am wrestling now. Wrestling with how to be here in this community and how to be here in the world, and they aren't easy companions.

  9. I've been wrestling with acceptance & obsessed with it in one way or another from the time I was able to put together coherent thoughts after Teddy's death. So I really appreciate hearing how you approach it, seeing that there are ways to approach it that are very different from the ways I've followed so far.

    I can see where it would be hard to balance the two kinds of being here, but while you are here, I am so grateful for your voice. I am grateful to you for your honesty and courage in putting your wrestling out there.

    I forgot to say in my previous comment how much I appreciate you writing about self-compassion. I'm bad at it, but trying to get better. And Dr. Neff's interview sounds almost frighteningly timely.

  10. Oh there is so so much to think about here.

    And yes, I'd love to be part of another Right Where I am Right Now project - I think that would be excellent.

    Angie, I don't think you should stop writing in this community because you feel like you have unpopular feelings. I think it is really healthy to for this space to reflect the huge diversity of human experience and feeling, and the dynamic nature of grief. You don't make any presumptions that everyone else is (or should be) feeling the same way as you, and you show unconditional compassion towards others even if they take a very different approach to yours.

    For me it was a life-saver to see that diversity within the voices here, because it meant that I lessened the pressure on myself to process my grief in one 'normal' way or another. It was very scary, feeling like there were no set expectations, but it was vital because it helped me tune into my own grief and find my own way through.

    I don't think you are putting any kind of happy gloss on grief - you are just speaking your own truth. And I think that for me, when I was in the darkest depths of my sadness, knowing that it was possible to experience greater self-knowledge and connection through surviving grief was a light at the end of the tunnel. Or rather, it gave me the courage to actually deal with being in the tunnel, and to be open and curious about where this tunnel was going, rather than pitying myself and raging against being in a tunnel in the first place.

    Yikes, I think I stretched that metaphor further than it should really have gone, but I hope that makes some sense. Apologies for such a long blather!

  11. Angie I don't have the free hands or the time to leave a long comment, but I most certainly think you belong here. And you know, I think you and I find ourselves in a very similar sort of headspace now, though I know that hasn't always been the case. And that's ok. We each have to travel our own paths. I would be honoured to participate in another Right Where I Am Project. Got my blogging/commenting fingers at the ready!
    All my love to you, Angie.

  12. Hmmm, this is so interesting. I find so often that I come here, gobble up your words and leave without so much as a thank you because I have too much to think about and only an inadequate response to make.

    Personally I didn't find much comfort in the idea of the tribe initially. I hated the story of the woman who visit the houses to find a house without sorrow. Because I wanted mine to be special, I wanted my daughter to be special. How terribly arrogant! To think that I was going to follow a different process from the rest of mankind. But know that I was accompanied by anyone who ever lived (or if they are not here yet they soon will be) didn't seem to make me feel better. Probably because I am useless at asking for help, sometimes I think I would rather drown than ask for help. But what is my blog but an extended plea for help? Perhaps my first? 'If sorrow can admit society, tell o'er your woes again by viewing mine.' No?

    I feel that I do have a lot of self-pity, probably less self-compassion. Also, oddly, I don't think I would count myself amongst the suffering and don't think I ever have. I suppose that my daughters claimed that word and I no longer felt I had a right to it? Interesting. I would certainly say I was miserable a lot of time so perhaps I chose that instead?

    And people, outside of this place, never told me that Georgina should have lived. Because she shouldn't have. Not really. Neither should Jessica. That little conundrum still keeps my mind ticking in the small hours.

    I don't know Angie. I don't think you were ever an asshole and I'm also inclined to think that the problem isn't always down to you. Although who am I to argue with the expert, who is, after all, you! But you couldn't have prepared for this and I think in those early times we are all just struggling through, flapping about in a very human way. I also look back and don't like myself or my behaviour particularly much but, as you say, you don't know what you don't know.

    I loved your description of turning and making a Scooby Doo sound! It's interesting, so interesting to read the reflections of other people on this process. You say you wiggle out of emotion, I can't seem to wiggle away from it! Some people would have me believe that's a good thing but, if so, why I am still here? Perhaps I'm pulling some kind of complicated double bluff on myself? But I suspect I'm not that clever!

    I've been reading a book called 'The New Black' about psychoanalytical ideas of mourning. A lot of them make me deeply uncomfortable, I do wonder if that is because they might contain some truth? Something you've looked into at all? I would be interested to hear what you think.

    You call that a long blather Hanen?! You've got nothing on me! Ooops. Thank you Angie, you always make me think. Just wish I had thoughts that could do yours justice!

  13. I've read this twice now and still can't quite get the words together to say what I want to say in response.

    Firstly - yes, definitely to RWIM!

    The rest - I value your voice and your experience enormously. A lot of this makes such a lot of sense: I have reached a place where I have accepted that my daughter is dead - I don't know if I have accepted that life is just as it should be, perhaps because my theological background teaches that this world is fallen and things happen which would not have happened in an ideal or perfect world. I would class Emma's death (any premature death actually) as that - a circumstance that could not be other given the nature of the world but which should be other, does that even make sense?

    I am glad too that you are looking for self-compassion - I think I'm some way away. Not because I don't recognise the importance of it but because I'm not ready to admit that the behaviours I exhibited in my early, raw grief were "wrong" per se - sometimes they were ugly and mean spirited but they were steps in my grief and I think necessary ones.

  14. Jesus Angie, this was some beautiful writing here. So much depth to this post, the kind that could only come from three years of this suffering you speak of. Your layers of personhood, the way your mind works, the way you keep tacking grief, are making such an indelible mark on me and this community.

    Stella is calling me from her room, from her nightly twelve hour slumber. Daaaaddy, daaaaaaaaady, she says. Daaaaaaddyyyy???

    This post will stick with me. Thank-you.

  15. You know, Jill, I don't know if I label it "wrong" grieving, because I don't think there is right grieving and wrong grieving. I know asshole is a judgment, but I think when I weigh behaviors, by all measurable means, acting in the ways I described are kind of asshole moves. I certainly felt justified in all my actions, and I think I was justified. Honestly, I do think people should be more patient with babylost parents, and I was pretty honest with people about what I was capable of doing and not doing. But I have lost more than a majority of my before friends. And I am telling you this honestly, I did the best that I could. The very very best. I couldn't have done any more. I have written this a few times, but this is how I literally see it in my head: Land of Righteous Indignation. Population 1.

    I don't know. I just wish someone had held me and said, "I love you. And you are justified to expect people to call you, to help you, to let you grieve in your own way. And all these people are wrong. But you can either be right or happy." I think that is self-compassion, not judging the reaction, but also not feeding the storyline to keep you in a place of suffering. I fed the story line for years.

  16. I certainly wasn't meaning to say that I thought you were labelling those behaviours as "wrong" - more that's the way I think I would have to view them to move on from them into the place you're working towards right now.

    But this - "But you can either be right or happy." makes total sense to me.

  17. I read this the other night and it moved me on so many levels. I started writing a turned into a book. I realized that I should just write it in an email...I was doing this on my phone...needless to say I erased it ALL. I've been waiting to have time to write again. But I wanted you to know how much this post meant to so much you write...You write my thoughts and feelings so well....even ones I didn't know I had :)

  18. I always appreciate what you have to say. You stretch my mind and give me reason to be thoughtful and contemplative, instead of the insistent and "poor me" person that I have a tendency to be. I hope you don't stop writing here, but I understand if you feel you can't at some point.
    I read an article by Pema Chodron, and plan on getting one of her book's through the library.
    I have high expectations of people. It's a learned trait, even before Lyra died. So tempering it has not really happened in the last two years, and I need to reign it in a bit. I am responsible for my role...sometimes the problem is me too.
    I could ramble more...about how I am or relate to this. But I'm in a contemplative mood, which makes me ramble worse than normal.
    So glad for you. Lots of love.

  19. One of many favorites about you, Still Life Angie - Josh put it extremely well: "Your layers of personhood."

    And before I give commenting a stab, thank you, Hanen:

    "For me it was a life-saver to see that diversity within the voices here, because it meant that I lessened the pressure on myself to process my grief in one 'normal' way or another."


    Exactly. I don't read for a mirror of my own thoughts, even if I am glad (often) to see a kinship.

    I come to read the layers, some of the layers, of Angie-personhood. Not only, but layers of other people's personhood, thoughts, insights, light-shining, deep-delving.

    Overstepping, hopefully not, but I feel I "know" you well enough to suspect you write from the hip - and will go on doing that.

    If you wonder whether we want you to edit or squish or censor your Angie-ness,

    supposedly make you, your thoughts, your internal siftings, more palatable,

    certainly, NOT in Missouri, and - I get the strong sense - not anywhere else, either.

    Which doesn't say anything specific about this quite-interesting post, which has kept my mind busy

    but for now, I halt.

    Stay (please?), and Angie On.

    xo Cathy in Missouri

    P.S. {C.W., as if you've ever blathered. Ha!}

  20. I have read and reread this so many times and keep trying to formulate an adequate reply. This went straight to my heart because I have been feeling so . . . restless? isolated? frustrated? lately and don't have the words or the time to parse it out.

    But I'd love to do another Right Where I Am, because it would be nice to figure that exactly out.

    I am grateful for you and your writing, Angie. You've given me so much to think about. Much love to you.

  21. Ang, you are in my brain and heart again, pulling out so much that resides there :)

    Yeah, I don't really think of it is as right or wrong grieving either. For me, I just know it is a reality that early in grief, we haven't even integrate the reality of what has happened yet -- let alone get perspective. There just is a part of the process early on that is self-centered, touchy, angry. I can't tell you how many times I've worked with a newly bereaved parent whose child died older -- 3 years, 10 years, teenage, you know? And they'll say something in session or group like, "At least your child was stillborn so you didn't get time to attach." OUCH! But I breathe and breathe and breathe and *know* that they just don't *know* yet. 9 times out of 10, it takes a year or more, but eventually those same people come back to me and apologize profusely for not getting it at first. I can leave the door open for all that now -- but in the beginning of my own process, no way, there was no door, I bricked up all the walls and told everyone to go to hell.

    It's a practice, not a perfect :)

    Anyway, later, one of the things that rang for me, was the fact that I do wish the boys were here, but that is just not an option. So given that *this* is it, now what? That was sort of the place of "the world is exactly as it is suppose to be"... It doesn't change the fact that I still think it sucks they aren't here... but okay, not an option, now what?

    Anyway, just looooove you BIG and wanted to thank you again and again and again for sharing so much with all of us!!


  22. Our community would be so much poorer without your words here, Angie. As others have said, I'm always reading, dont' always comment, because sometimes, there is just so much to take in & turn over in my head, and anything I could write as a comment would seem wholly inadequate, somehow.

    My initial reaction to another "Right Where I Am" post was "well, not much has changed." But I just posted about yet another friend announcing, not their own pregnancy, but their KID's pregnancy -- i.e., grandparenthood. So yeah, I might have a new spin to add this year after all. ; )


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